Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In which I learn to ride a bike

It was the day before Easter and the snow was finally off the ground. The streets were clear and it was time to get my new bike off the trainer and on the road.

The bike had been in the trainer since late January, right in the middle of the living room, where I could pedal my heart out and watch guilty-pleasure TV. Yay, cycling.

However, my upcoming races weren't going to be held in my living room, and it was time to actually have the rubber meet the road.

My oldest wanted to take her scooter around the neighborhood, so I decided to accompany her on my bike. I didn't bother dressing in my cycling gear, we were just screwing around for a bit.

So dressed in yoga pants, sneakers and a sweatshirt (no helmet), I threw my leg over the crossbar, put my left food on the pedal and pushed off. I had put in hours on the trainer - hell, I was clipping in and out on that sucker by feel and with aplomb - so surely this would be a walk in the —

Oh. Fuck.

Broken free from the safe, secure and steady embrace of the trainer, this motherfracking bike and I were like Bambi on ice - off balance, wobbly, hurdling ahead and about to go down.

When I pushed off, the bike took off. It's a racing bike, it's light and fast. Capital F. I could get little balance and the front tire was bucking from side to side like it was having a seizure. This is not my 1978 banana-seat Huffy with the chopper handlebars, this mofo is built for speed. Literally.

Panicked - because I was not about to go down from Jump Street, especially in front of my daughter - I maneuvered the bike over to the curb and planted my right leg, no brakes, all desperation - very nearly crotching myself on the top tube in the process.

What the hell was that all about? I know how to ride a bike. What is wrong with this demon cycle? Or me?

I exhaled, glanced around hoping my neighbors didn't witness that cluster and tried to figure out how to ride this damn thing. What was I doing wrong?

I took off again and while slightly more steady, I was still more off-balance and wobbly than I expected. My center of gravity seemed off, the bike turned on a dime and, again, flew off just one pedal stroke.

I took a few passes around the cul de sac, not feeling in control. Plus, I was worried about my yoga pants getting caught in the gears, God, even my clothes were conspiring against me. I hopped off and wheeled this beast into the garage for another day, entirely spooked. I can ride a bike. What am I doing wrong?

What have I gotten myself into? was seared into my brain. You could almost smell my desperation in a post on the Lifetime Loser Facebook page.

Round 2

The next day, Easter, my daughter was itching to take her scooter out again. She wanted to me to go with her and automatically I said, "Yes, I'll get my bike." Then doubt set in. Hard. I was tempted to put off the short ride because, frankly, I didn't want to get back on the horse that metaphorically threw me. Seriously, what if I could not ride this bike?

I'll ride tomorrow, I thought. Yeah, that intention has historically worked really well for me. Thankfully, I recognized this as the mother of all stall tactics.

I decided I need to get back on that bike immediately, so I did. This time I wore my helmet and cycling shorts. I still wore sneakers, I had to get the basics down on this sucker before I even harbored the thought of clipping in.

She scootered around our neighborhood and I rode. Slowly. I got used to the balance between my body and the bike.

I figured out, small step by small step, how to ride this thing. Where to position the left pedal, so I could push off but not take off flying. How to get myself up in the saddle without catching the padding of my bike shorts on the seat (easy, lift your ass up and back, dummy). Now, let's do these both at the same time.

Next, where to position my hands. I realized my big problem from the day before was I had my hands on the top of the handlebar by the stem - a habit from childhood where the brake levers traditionally were. But on this bike, there are no brakes up on the handlebars, they're down on the drops (where the handlebars curve, the traditional racing position). I instinctively put my hands not only in a spot with little control or balabce, but no way to brake.

When I held on up middle top, controlling the handlebars and, therefore, front wheel was difficult. The front wheel would wobble side to side, like the bike was shaking its head, "No." Hence the wobble. Moving my left hand down to the drops gave me control and stability. Ah ha, that's much better - there's the control.

OK, now let's put this all together: left hand down on the drop, left pedal in the correct position, push off, lift your ass up and back onto the saddle in one swift motion, lower your torso, put your right hand on the right drop and go. There, all of a sudden, was a smooth start. I almost looked like a knew what I was doing.

I took a few laps of the cul de sac just working on this. Stop. Get down. Start over. Pedal a bit. Stop. Repeat. Once I felt better, I'd do a lap, then learn how to brake gently, gradually, without sending myself over the handlebars or bruising my most private, cherished places.

I did laps for about 20 minutes. Then I got a feel for the gears. I knew them cold in the trainer, but here in the street, it was almost back to Square 1: shifting up and down through the gears, smoothly, without sounding like I was tossing a box of wrenches, one by one, into a fan.

After a half hour my daughter and I headed home and I immediately felt better. It wasn't pretty, but it was a damn sight better than it was just 24 hours before.

Next stop: Leaving the neighborhood.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In which it's good to be bad

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the above on my Lifetime Loser Facebook page.

I was gently - and rightly - chastised by commenters for thinking that I suck.

Funny that "I suck" was my first reaction to an endeavor I hadn't done in quite a while. If a friend that posted that, I would have been one of the first to say, "Are you nuts? You haven't ridden in forever. Give yourself a break. You're a beginner."

Yet, did I extend that kindness and latitude to myself? Nope. I went straight to "You're terrible. You're doing a duathlon? In May? Are you high?"

I find it really hard to ditch those old feelings of "You can't do this" because for years, well, decades, that's exactly what I thought about most everything. I was firmly ensconced in my comfort zone and I was not budging, no way, no how.

I didn't want to try anything because I might fail or embarrass myself. And when you're overweight, you can feel like life is a daily reminder that you're a failure. The last thing you want to do is call attention to yourself by making a spectacle of yourself. I'll just sit over here, in the corner, in my tiny comfort zone, thanks. And, would you pass the chips?

When you're overweight, the world is full of "can't." One of the best things I learned while losing weight is that the world is actually full of can. You can do anything, you just have to give yourself the right time, equipment and instruction.

You lose weight and you gain confidence. You starting dipping a toe outside of that comfort zone. Then you venture out a little farther. And you realize: No one is watching you, hoping you'll fail. It's all in your head.

So you start trying things and, yeah, you stink when you start because you're a beginner. Just harken back to any of my early posts on running and bootcamp and you'll see.

But, you just keep trying and, what do you know, you get better.

It's funny, I'm almost having the opposite problem these days. I've been running for a few years now and just passed my 2-year anniversary at bootcamp. (And, really, if you read this post, who'd have thought I'd still be doing it now?)

Anyway, I've been doing relatively the same thing for years and I'm comfortable in those environments. Cycling and swimming? Not so much. It's jolting to be thrown back into absolute beginner status, but thinking about it, it's wonderful.

First, it takes me down a peg or two in the whole ego department and that's good for me. It reminds me that just because I can run and do squats that doesn't signify I will kick ass right off the bat at every activity.

Most importantly, it has reminded me that true growth - the best growth - comes outside that comfort zone and just because my comfort zone is larger and more accomplished than before, that doesn't make hiding in it any more acceptable.

So, here's to abandoning my comfort zone once again - on wheels and in water.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

In which I am all-in for Sandy

It was Oct. 8, 2012 and Sandy and I were walking across the Public Garden on a gorgeous fall morning, all blue skies and sunshine (see above).

We were on our way to pick up our numbers for the start of the Tufts 10K for Women, when she dropped it on me:

"Pal, I think I'm gonna get a bib for the Marathon..."

There was no need to specify which one, in our neck of the woods, "the marathon" is "The Marathon."

I turned and smiled. Of course she would, she's Sandy and, frankly, if you know her that's a very Sandy thing to do.

"That," I said - both surprised and yet unsurprised at the news - "is awesome."

I've known Sandy since 1997. I had the great fortune to meet her when I started a new job, enjoying a very bizarre welcome lunch on my first day (I know she remembers it), and cementing what would become one of the best friendships of my life.

The marketing slogan for The Boston Marathon (as if it needed one) is "All in for Boston."

Sandy is all-in for Boston, much like she is all-in in pretty much every aspect of her life.

She's all-in for her family, especially her nieces and nephews, who are the luckiest people on the planet. 

She's all in for work, where she has expertly navigated the very tricky world of freelance journalism to craft a stellar career.

She's all-in for animal welfare, volunteering hundreds of hours a year at the Baypath Humane Society - for which she is running Monday and has raised nearly $4,000.

She's all-in for herself. Several years ago Sandy was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease that would have felled many others, content to just survive. Not Sandy. She tackled it head-on and has committed herself to not only living with this condition, but thriving.

She took charge of her health and wellness, losing 50 lbs and getting fit. I started running in January 2011 and Sandy followed suit in September. Neither naturally gifted or talented in that department, we did not let it deter us. If you know us in "real life", this is not news.

We call each other our "domestic life running partner" and I can assure you that running a race with a friend, especially my friend, is one of the great joys of my life. We've accompanied each other from 5Ks to 10K, from half-marathons to, this summer, triathlons. (No, I'm not ready to marathon just yet.)

Sandy calls running and fitness our shared midlife crisis and she's not far off. We're always calling, texting or emailing each other tips, gear ideas, books or new races. Beware any email from us that starts "What do you think about..."

But, like many things in this life, health and fitness is more fun with a friend. And now Sandy has enriched my life in yet another whole new arena.

Lastly, Sandy is all-in as a friend. If you know Sandy, you're nodding your head. Once she's your friend, she is your friend for life.

Sandy was at my wedding. She was one of the first people to hold my first-born. She's supported me in countless ways. You know those friends who say they'll do anything for you, anytime? She actually does.

Last December I was seriously ill and seriously scared. My husband and I had to go to a doctor's appointment on a Saturday and we had no one to watch the kids. He called Sandy, and of course her reply was, "What time do you need me?"

Here's an excerpt from my journal on that day:

"Keith and I returned home and I gently stepped out of the car and up the front stairs. The door opened and there’s Sandy, wanting to know how it went.

“You’ve got this,” she said, before I could even start in on what happened. “You’ve got this.”

She was confident and positive, two attributes I sorely needed at that time. I could have cried I was so grateful for her presence, her positive attitude and friendship.

I immediately flashed back to the Rock n Roll Half Marathon we ran this past August. She was about 20 minutes ahead of me and near Mile 11 there was an out and back. I figured I would catch her, me on the “out” and she on the “back.” After about 10 minutes I spied her, she looked tired and hot, like everyone else.

I yelled across to her: “You’ve got this! You’ve got this!” She needed the encouragement then. I needed it now. We grabbed Subway on the way home, and Sandy and I sat on my couch, eating lunch and talking about the road ahead. Healing, getting back to normal and running. I need normal."

You've got this, Sandy. You've got this.

Friday, April 12, 2013

In which it's double trouble

I had more time to play with than normal at the gym today, so I decided to do a 20-minute track workout, followed by a 900m swim - the first time I've attempted to double up on tri events.

It's also the first time I tried to get my running and swim gear in the same duffel. I enjoy swimming, but man there is a lot of falderal you need to tote before, during and after.

Anyway, track went fine and on my way to the locker room to change into my swim gear, I thought, You know, you already had bootcamp this morning. You just ran. You could skip the swim.

Then, I swear, all I heard in my head was GET YOUR ASS IN THE POOL!

So I did.

Four laps into the 28 I planned, I was feeling a tired. Or, to be more precise, my brain was tired. My body was fine. Lap 28 seemed rather far away. Then I heard, SHUT UP BRAIN! JUST SWIM!

Whatever - or whoever - is in my head is very loud and demanding. I find it pretty astounding that after 2+ years of working on my health and fitness, I still have to battle those voices from time to time.

You hear it a lot in running: Get out of your own head. Your body is capable of so much more than you brain will allow. Stop listening to your brain and just run. Or, in this case, swim.

So I kept swimming.

Four laps turned into 14, then 24, then I was done.

And, what do you know, I felt better than expected.

This is a very small taste of what I'm looking at in July. It's still outside - well outside - my comfort zone, but I'm not as panicky about the outcome as I was just a week ago. And that's good.

Also wonderful: The fact that when I have free time, more often than not I want to ride my bike or hit the gym. Not because I have to, but because I want to.

I certainly still have my days where I plunk myself off the couch and do my best impression of a tuber, but I find it rather incredible that 9 times out of 10, if I have a couple of hours, I'm moving. Because it's challenging. I feel good after. I feel proud that I say, "I'm going to hit the gym" and actually follow through.

And, most amazing of all, it's fun.

I can hear your question, "Yeah, but how do you get to that point?"

Find something you like. Any activity, any challenge, as long as you enjoy it. It's got to be fun or you just won't do it. Keep trying until you find something you like - and you will.